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Opinion: New Ivorian President has a lot of convincing to do

With Monday's arrest of Laurent Gbagbo, the way has been cleared for Alassane Ouattara to become president of Ivory Coast. But DW's Dirke Köpp says the new leader's challenges are far from over.

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The day for which Alassane Ouattara has waited for so long - the day on which he can take power - is finally at hand. For four-and-half-months, and in truth probably longer, Ouattara has been anticipating this moment. Twice in the past, the opposition politician and economic expert was denied the right to run for the Ivorian presidency. The argument was always that he was a foreigner, not a true Ivorian.

Dirke Köpp

Dirke Köpp is a DW Africa expert

The perception of him as an alien will be one of his main problems when he takes office. But the basic difficulty is not his nationality or extraction. For many Ivorians, Ouattara is little more than a puppet of the West.

Ouattara was educated in the West, and he made his career here. He also received a lot of Western support in his months-long struggle for power. His rival Laurent Gbagbo consistently exploited these facts in an attempt to stir up popular opposition to the incoming leader.

So the new president must show that he is something more than just the internationally recognized head of state of Ivory Coast. He has to prove that he can unite the citizens of his country behind him.

This will be a difficult task. Even before rumors of an international conspiracy began to circulate, Alassane Ouattara did not enjoy comprehensive support. Only slightly more than half of Ivory Coast's voters cast their ballots for him. Indeed, in the first stage of the election, he attracted fewer votes than Gbagbo.

So Ouattara's first job is to win over those who voted against him. He must immediately begin to clear up some of the human rights violations and crimes that have taken place in Ivory Coast, including those committed by his own supporters. The role of Prime Minister Guillaume Soro will have to be thoroughly investigated, and those who are found guilty will have to be brought to justice.

A further priority for Ouattara should be the formation of a commission for truth and reconciliation. It is crucial to shed light not just upon the violence of the past few weeks and months, but during the entire Ivorian civil war from 2002 to 2007.

Ouattara will also have to involve his political adversaries in order to form a government of national unity. There are indeed moderates in the Gbagbo camp, and they need to be part of a dialogue.

In the coming weeks, if Ouattara is to overcome the divisions within the country, he'll need three attributes: an open ear for the concerns of his fellow citizens, a readiness to find compromises, and last but not least, patience. It won't be easy to win over the hearts of all Ivorians or even to quell vocal protests from a large segment of the population.

Alassane Ouattara has a lot of work to do. The struggle of Ivory Coast's new president will continue. But this time the fight will have to be a peaceful one.

Author: Dirke Köpp (jc)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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